The tree stands at the window, its lights twinkling. I had the timer in my hand for two seconds but got distracted by the prodigal son and now we have forever-lights, day or night, on or off. I choose to leave them shining. I'll find the timer when I clean, I'm sure; sitting on the mantle, or behind a picture on the piano.
Last evening my son and Brian carried a small dresser upstairs and settled it in its new place in my snazzy dressing room. Brian Martig, the carpenter/friend/fellow-Rotarian who rehabbed my upstairs attic and bathroom, vacuumed the last dust from his seven-week odyssey at the Holmes house, drank an Oatmeal Stout with Patrick, and bid us good evening. He will return; his equipment stands in my garage and needs to be organized and taken home; he has a few trim pieces to install; he's put a temporary lamp where a light fixture will be. But his second child will be born on Monday. The little fixings can wait until January.
Today holds house-cleaning, laundry, new-closet organizing, and Christmas shopping. My heart still hums from last evening's successful creation of muffin-tin frittatas and pan-roasted Brussel sprouts with Patrick. We used Chef John's mini-quiche recipe and made six large frittatas, three with chorizo, three meatless. We sauteed the chorizo in one of the newly re-cured cast iron pans, and the veggies in another. Hot pan, cold oil, just as my mother taught me. I felt a bit reluctant to eat while Brian still worked, but I offered him dinner and he declined. The three of us had shared pizza on the previous evening.
Last week the ghosts of Christmas Past haunted me but this morning I feel contented. I've been doing these musings for more than seven years. They have evolved from what someone once described as "warm fluffy stories" to a generous if uninvited helping of my life's philosophy. The Musings and My Year Without Complaining often seem to blend together. I've let go of the past more and more this year. So many stories have been told. So much has found its way to this virtual page.
But faces rise in my mind still. Tender moments of today connect themselves to the thread of sweetness running through my life.
Christmas Eve, 1973; Incarnate Word Hospital; St. Louis. Those of us without spouses or children volunteered to work the late shift so that our co-workers could see the glow of Christmas morning from home. I sat at the desk transcribing the day's orders in the way that we did back then, before computers invaded every workplace.
A heavy-set woman settled into the chair beside me. Mrs. Turner; her first name escapes me all these years later. She had straightened hair in the way of black women of the day. A pink uniform smock strained across her shoulders. Lilac lipstick made a crooked swathe on her mouth.
I had not worked with her before that night. I moved a bit to let her reach for the chart she wanted. I offered her coffee from the pot behind us. She took the mug, wrapping slender, red-tipped fingers around its warmth. You don't have any place to be tonight either, she said to me, in a tone which implied either resentment or despair. I mentioned my mother and father; tomorrow's breakfast and dinner. Presents under the childhood tree. I didn't say that I had not had a meaningful conversation with my mother for four months. I left out the part about the slammed phone, the sharp words, the September sabotage of my good relationship with the better of my two parents.
Mrs. Turner showed less discretion. I had me a family once. The bitter words could not be stopped. Christmas, presents, roast beef, everything. I waited. My listening skills needed sharpening but I could hold my tongue even at eighteen.
The unit had fallen silent while the nurses and aides walked its corridors in their soft-soled shoes, checking on the sleeping patients. Mrs. Turner and I staffed the nurse's desk, shuffling paper, sending orders to the pharmacy, keeping notes and paging doctors. The late shift demanded less of us and so we had time to talk.
Mrs. Turner shifted in her chair, a short woman with a ponderous frame. Yeah, I bet you don't know who I am. I did not. I tilted my head forward, a gesture modeled after my mother. She took this as leave and continued. I was married to Ike Turner before that woman. That woman. Tina Turner?
I tried to picture the type of man who would marry both a ward clerk at a small Catholic Hospital and a pop diva. My imagination failed. My skepticism flashed across my face and Mrs. Turner slapped her mug on the desk. It's true, I can prove it. She hauled some papers from a handbag stashed in the footwell of her desk and shoved them towards me. All I could think: She carries her divorce papers? I gently pressed them back into her hand just as the first tears fell.
You got no idea what it's like to be left, she whispered. I did not, then, though later, so many heartbreaks later, I would understand.
I had never previously put my arms around a woman not related to me except the very old, at the nursing home where I volunteered. I did that evening. I felt her shudder against my chest; felt the ripple of her pulling herself back together. I moved away. I filled her coffee.
Wouldn't it be nice to have a little sumpin sumpin in that sludge, she said.
The elevator door opened just then; and the director of nursing came towards us with a tray of cookies. Merry Christmas, girls, she trilled. Mrs. Turner took a handful. I shook my head but set the tray on the counter. Our DON asked about the patient count, the events of the evening, where the staff might be. Mrs. Turner answered all her questions as the senior clerk on duty while I finished what our conversation had interrupted.
When we were again alone at the desk, Mrs. Turner faced me and asked, You won't tell nobody I cried, will you? I shook my head. We went back to our work, to the business of running the ward, as the overhead lights dimmed and the strains of Silent Night drifted from the speakers overhead.
I don't know if Mrs. Turner still lives. If I am sixty, she must be ninety. I don't know if she truly married Ike Turner. I didn't read the papers she thrust at me. I tried to find out once, decades later, on the Internet. I did not satisfy myself. I let her memory be; I allowed her to remain the wronged ex-wife of a flawed charismatic star. Her face has receded into the dimness of lingering memory, a face seen in a gloomy hospital ward,on Christmas Eve, when I was young.
Saturday, December 19, 2015
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The Missouri Mugwump™
- M. Corinne Corley
- I've been many things in my life: A child, a daughter, a friend; a wife, a mother, a lawyer and a pet-owner. I've given my best to many things and my worst to a few. I live in Brookside, in an airplane bungalow. I'm an eternal optimist and a sometime-poet. If I ever got a poem published in The New Yorker, I would die a happy woman. I'm a proud supporter of the Arts in Kansas City. I vote Democrat, fly the American flag, cry at Hallmark commercials, and recycle.
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